Monday, January 30, 2017

Ella, Minnow, Pea

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On a roll reading this last few new books from friends.  Ella, Minnow, Pea by Mark Dunn is a “cute” story of the fictitious island of Nollop, names after the Nevin Nollop, who came up with the phrase: “the quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog!”  And why was that so significant?  It was seen as the shortest sentence using every letter of the alphabet.  So with that tag line framed in block letters on a memorial statue for the former leader of the island.  What happens when letters start falling one by one off the statue?  The island leadership enforces a rule that makes that letter “extinct” from all vocabulary, meaning if you say that letter in a word, strike one!  Three strikes and you are removed from the island.  The 18-year-old Ella Minnow Pea and the rest of her family struggle to live through this new rule which has the family separated.  Ella’s cousin, Tassie, and a US born researcher work to save the island by discovering a sentence with the alphabet in less than 32 letters which will allow the government to overturn the rule.  They only have a few weeks to do so.  This play on words, and letters causes chaos to the citizens and has some funny moments.  It is a good book to help teach youngsters that silly rules in life exist, plus have a bit of fun with the alphabet and the creation of new words.  In the end, Ella’s father sarcastic request for them to send him alcohol, saves the island… “pack my box with five dozen liquor jars,” only 26 letters!!!  A neat play on words.  Pretty surface level-book, not a lot of depth here.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Approval Junkie

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Finished another friend’s favorite 2016 book, Approval Junkie by Faith Salie.  The book is about Salie’s pre-occupation with gaining the approval of others in various aspects of her life.  Salie, a comedienne and news reporter/journalist shares the most intimate details of her personal life: having an eating disorder, first marriage (and divorce), being single again, dating an alcoholic, marriage number 2, becoming a mother at age 40, losing her mother to cancer, the highs and lows of her professional life, and relationship with her siblings.  The book, which I listened to while driving upstate, had a number of very funny stories that made me ‘belly laugh”.  I had never heard of the author before but could imagine her doing well on the comedy circuit.  Her stories showed a vulnerable side and allowed the reader to find the human part of her.  Her struggles with acceptance is a real issue almost all of us face.  She is well read and intelligent.  Transferring from Northwestern University to Harvard (they don’t accept many transfer students!), and later her time as a Rhodes Scholar studying literature built a strong foundation for her to draw parallels in her work as a reporter on politics and human interest stories.  Her stories ranged from ultra-serious topics to the outrageous (learning how to give a man a hand job from her gay brother!)….  She referenced NYU hospital as her in vitro fertility clinic and how they helped store her eggs! This was a fun book that had moments that made you realize how important it is to go full throttle into what you do while trying not to have the need for others to validate it.    

Friday, January 27, 2017

Year of Yes

January 27, 2017 
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A very positive and uplifting book Year of Yes by Shonda Rhimes, television writer/producer and extraordinaire.  Rhimes tells the story of how her life changed on Thanksgiving morning when her sister challenged her to change “no” into “yes”, and so began a year of positive outcomes.  Rhimes proclaims her ‘Yes year’ to her PR agent, friends, family, and to those who call upon her… the President of her alma mater, Dartmouth College, who asked her to give the commencement address in 2014!  Normally she would have said NO, but not this time, as it no longer is in her vocabulary.  The book is a series of life moments during the year where she gives public addresses, goes on the Jimmy Kimmel show, though it is taped and not live, she plays with her kids when she needs to leave for important presentation, and she says yes to help her health improve (losing over one hundred pounds!).  Rhimes shares a good deal of stories from her television shows: Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal, and How to Get Away with Murder.  She gives sound advice on how to change your perspective by taking action and reap the benefits of those actions.  Good read, quick and for those who watch her shows (I don’t watch tv much), get hidden secrets from casting and other aspects of her career.     

Monday, January 9, 2017

Colorless (Extra Book - RA Book Club)

Over the Fall 2016 semester, the RA Book Club read and discussed Colorless by Haruki Murakami.  See below for the RA’s reactions to the book. 

Colorless is a novel about a young man whose friends abruptly abandon him during the formative years of high school. This incident spirals Tsukuru Tazaki into a depression that he struggles to overcome. Later on, he meets a girl who encourages him to find out the reason behind his friends' abandonment in order to ease his emotional pain and find fulfillment. He does just that and their reasoning is far from reassuring. His journey to find answers and mature into his own colorless self is chronicled in this heartbreaking yet uplifting novel about friendship, identity, and finding oneself through others.

I've read a lot of Murakami and find many of his novels to be similar. His writing is always gorgeous and poetic, and the little flashes of magic realism add so much depth and intrigue to his work. That said, Colorless fell a little flat for me. There seemed to be a lot of plot points that went unexplained (or were just never returned to) and the main character was a stereotype of a wealthy male with zero emotional depth or growth (sorry Tom!). Murakami has a habit of hitting you over the head with his metaphors and this novel felt incredibly repetitive. I still love his writing - he's just so quotable! - but the plot felt frivolous and reductive (Spoiler: I also strongly dislike the use of false rape accusations, women have it hard enough as it is!). I will end this review on a good note, though. My absolute favorite section was Tsukuru visiting Eri in Finland. The writing is beautiful and the loneliness of the two characters is echoed throughout Murukamis' descriptions of Finland's cold forests and roads. I loved the conversation between the two, which felt so genuine and caring and warm, unlike much of the other conversations in the novel. Overall I wasn't terribly impressed with Colorless, but it had really incredible moments and Murukami is still an excellent writer.

In Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage, Haruki Murakami explores friendship, love, and loss by creating an intriguing narrative about one man, Tsukuru Tazaki, and his journey to understand the loneliness that seems to plague every relationship in his life. His story is left unresolved, perhaps as a way of showing the reader that you need to truly live to know the future. This book consists of confusing, yet fascinating fantasies of the mind that contradict the reality we think we know to be true. For me, this book did not answer any questions or provide me with a complete, wholesome story; instead, it challenged my own understanding of what it means to truly connect with someone, my work, or the universe at large. I highly recommend it to anyone looking for an easy, compelling read.

“Colorless" is a book to be read little by little, and requires one to take time to process all the ideas and themes that emerge from the readings. I think there’s an overarching idea that the author wanted to impress on his readers: one must get over past events in life and continue to live in the present, because the present is what’s real. Yet, the thing that struck me most is how the boundary between reality and dream dissolved very early on in the book. The writing was very nuanced and subtle, yet profoundly interesting. Murakami surely knows how to hook his readers. 

This is the first book by a Japanese author that I have ever read, and it coincides with a time in which I have grown increasingly interested in Japanese culture, in its historical evolution and in its current form. I wonder if I would have read this book differently had I known more of Japanese notions of privacy, work culture, family, and other themes that were addressed in the book.
Although we did discuss some references to both the Japanese tradition compared to some Westernized aspects of the book, however, Murakami’s novel was more an exploration of literary style to me than a study on Japanese culture, And to me, it did not yield the best result. I appreciated our conversations because they made me find symbols I had not noticed before, but sometimes I was annoyed by what I felt was an excessive emphasis on symbols, as if everything had to have a transcendental meaning and Murakami was following a writer’s manual to scream through his words, “Hey! Here’s a literary metaphor!” I also felt, and I believe many others would agree, that the author aimed too high at the beginning and the story never lived up to the initial suspense, never gave a satisfactory ending. It was as if, in the first half of the book, Murakami had been slowly blowing air into a giant balloon through the mystery of the rape, Haida’s story, Tzukuru’s dreams… to the point in which it was about to burst, when Tzukuru decides to visit his old friends and even travel to Finland. But, instead of giving that pop that the reader’s anxiously waiting for, the balloon all of a sudden loses air and becomes just another piece of rubber. I had so many questions at the end, but not the kind of questions that a good, ambiguous ending wants you to have, but rather the feeling that the story had not been properly finished, that the author had forgotten loose ends he had left behind and never came back to them. What initially seemed to me a novel of mystery and suspense did not end with a gasp of surprise but rather a shrugging of the shoulders and a large question mark.  

After two semesters of being a member of RA book club, this semester has been my favorite due to both the richness of topics to discuss on the book as well as the quality of the discussions we had at our meetings. My only blip/regret of the semester was the misnumbering of the pages in my book as that ruined the experience of reading the book for me as crucial information was given away early on. However, overall, the content of the book kept me engaged and our discussions led me to consider things I would not have considered had I read the book on my own, which is exactly what I feel a book club should do. Would love to read more of Murakami's works in future semesters on my own! 

Overall I really enjoyed the experience of reading and interacting with the book. Murakami’s writing style is so unique and it kept me thinking even after I had stopped reading. While I wouldn't put it on a favorites list, I would certainly recommend it to anyone looking to read something a little outside of the ordinary. This book for me is one of those rare books that I feel compelled to pick back up and comb through again, picking up new connections and details. 

Colorless is the first Murakami book I've read. I thoroughly enjoyed the first part of the novel. Tazaki's transition from adolescent to adulthood was heartfelt- from the pure and innocent relationship his group of friends had to their disassociation from him which lead him into an abyss, from meeting Haida and Sarah to reaching out to his old friends and finding out the truth. Murakami's use of magic realism exceeded my expectations. I could imagine the story of Haida's story very clearly in my head, the rural mountain and piano. I did not like the abundant sex scenes in the story, however, I felt a lot of them were unnecessary and out of place. I was disappointed by the ending of the book, I felt as if though there was no character growth at all and I did not walk away with any lessons, and that to me is very important when reading a book. 

Colorless was an extremely engaging, fast-paced book that I found difficult to put down. Up until chapter 10, the book was gripping, the characters Murakami built and their interactions with each other elicited my curiosity to a point where it became difficult to stop reading. I saw a lot of myself in Tsukuru’s struggle to find his own identity. Trying to find his niche in his group of friends sums up my experiences in middle school. However, the character is emotionally stunted even at the age of 34, which made the book so interesting to read. Having a discussion halfway through the book was insightful and allowed me to reflect on what I had read so far. I was also fascinated by the discussion around death and the number four in the book and it was something I looked out for in the later half of the book, but it seemed to fizzle out.  My favorite part of the book however, was Tsukuru’s trip to Finland and his conversation with Kuro. I thought the premise was set up incredibly in the way Murakami describes Tsukuru’s anxiety and trepidation regarding his impending meeting with Kuro and her side of the story. Once he finds their summer cottage, Murakami’s language turns so beautifully descriptive, with the colors, scenery and their body language around each other, that I could imagine sitting on the couch and watching the two friends talk. This detail also helps bring out the beauty, subtlety and decadence of Kuro’s pottery and allows us a glimpse into her evolution as a person.
Murakami weaves an incredible story about his protagonist, Tsukuru. Having read some of his other work, it seemed that Murakami refrained from employing a lot of his signature style of magical realism apart from the literal description of Tsukuru’s dreams. However, I think he could have done a little more to explain the significance of his dreams by clarifying Haida’s fate and how he and his story factor into to Tsukuru’s life after his trip to Finland.  Although I can accept the fact that Murakami chose not to bring up Haida or Sara considering the focus is on his protagonist, what disappointed me was that Tsukuru didn’t learn what I was expecting him to from his journey. Murakami created a flawed character to begin with and I was rooting for him to overcome his insecurities and grow as a person at the end in this coming-of-age story, but it seemed like he hadn’t learnt anything during his pilgrimage. He once again puts all his eggs in one basket and becomes entirely emotionally reliant on Sara. This was a little disappointing to me as a reader after investing so much in him on his journey to reduce his dependence on his group of friends. It almost felt like Kuro’s character development and story was better thought out and executed than Tsukuru’s. Overall, I enjoyed reading the book and would recommend it to others, but thought the end was a little abrupt and disappointing.

Colourless was a fascinating read as we explored Tsukuru's life, both past and present, and his interactions with his colourful high school friends as well as his new friends like Sarah and Haida. This being the first novel by Murakami that I have read, I found it interesting as others in the book club were able to compare his style of writing to his other books and draw similarities such as his fondness for allegories and repeating similes. Other traits that we observed included the use of Western music and art references as well as the manipulation of the fine line between dreams and reality. I really enjoyed reading and discussing Colourless in book club, the one exception being that I was slightly disappointed by the lacklustre ending where readers are left to guess at so many hanging plot points. 

Huruki Murakami’s Colorless constantly walks and blurs the line between reality and fantasy. Even though the book’s plot is very slow moving, and at often times unexciting, every moment and every description plays an important part in the exploration in finding meaningfulness in life. By following Tsukuru and his search for an impactful purpose in life, the reader at first sees him as illogical, bland, and unmoving, but as the book goes on we start to see ourselves in him. We feel the need to find closure, and understand that some things need explanation and it is impossible to leave everything in the past. Additionally, when we hear the genre of the book “magic realism”, we expect some sci-fi crazy plot, but instead I was surprised that Murakami shows us that often times our dreams can be blurred with reality, or our sense of reality. We all live the life that we create, and appreciate things based on our own perspectives, sometimes perspectives that need input and shaping from others. The mystery that Tsukuru is able to finally solve at the end of the book after 16 years displays that “reality” can be interpreted and seen differently through the different lenses of each individual person.

Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami is a surreal novel laced with the trademark whimsy Murakami is known for. The narrative follows Tsukuru Tazaki, a seemingly colorless man, as he revisits his nearly fatal exile from his high school friend group. The rejection has haunted Tsukuru for over fifteen years, and further intrigue and mystery surface through bizarre and often sexually charged dreams, some of which are never explained. Tsukuru occupies a magical realist world that is sometimes too shadowy and abstract to be accessible to readers, but his malaise and the struggle to conquer it are compelling enough to evoke a vested interest. Tsukuru as a protagonist holds the reader's attention but never fully establishes enough of a connection for his pain and mental anguish to feel thoroughly palpable. Solving the mystery of his exile often takes a backseat to long moments of listlessness or philosophical conversations. Nevertheless, the premise and the rainbow cast of characters heavily dependent upon symbolism, shared histories and complex social relationships create a microcosm that is equal parts pensive and hopeful. The novel ends not with a bang but the whispered promise of things to come. 

Overall, I’m glad to have read and discussed Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki. I didn’t know much about Haruki Murakami when I started to read Colorless, but I had looked him up and expected to see some of his trademark magic realism throughout the book and didn’t get much of that except in a few of the dream sequences. I suppose I’ll have to venture into his other works for that! I enjoyed the book overall and would recommend it to certain people. I feel that I may have enjoyed it less if I hadn’t gotten other people’s perspectives on it. There were times when I was confused about why certain characters acted they way they did or certain plot lines occurred but the book club setting was extremely helpful. I enjoy following Tsukuru through his journey both to come back from the edge of a deep depression and to find out why his friends dropped him so abruptly. I understand Tsukuru was the main character, so it makes sense that the focus was on his journey. However, I wish the supporting characters would have been developed more than just in how they related to him and his progression. I still feel like said progression was never really completed! I would have really loved to get an ending that tied up more loose ends (mostly did she say yes or no!?).

Reading Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Privilege was an interesting experience for me. This was only my third time participating in a book club and my first time doing one where the author wasn't present to discuss the literature with us. However, I thought the book, the format of our discussion, and the themes that were present were really fun to talk about with other RAs and with Tom. Colorless was, frankly, not my favorite Murakami book. 1Q84 is, I think, by far his best work (though Norwegian Wood is also fantastic!). Overall, there was some beautiful word usage--aided by the translation, I think--that made me have to stop and reconsider the book. Some of the characters, like Haida, felt unresolved to me. I think the book ended rather abruptly and I would have liked to see another twenty or thirty pages to kind of wrap everything up. Tsukuru, as a character, though, was interestingly complex if not very apathetic. He wasn't a character I WANTED to root for, but a character I ended up pulling for about halfway through the book. I wanted to see him take an active role in his life, and he did to an extent, which was satisfying. The one thing I'm still hung up on, though, is the significance of the 4s on all page numbers being a different color. That might be something formal to think about more analytically on my next read.


The story was in no ways mind-blowing, but it had very interesting things to say about individuality and identity. I loved how familiar themes quietly unfold in the book: identity and self-realization, unresolved emotional pain from the past and elusive dream states. The main character was a bit bland, but in hindsight that is exactly what Murakami seems to be trying to accomplish: this idea that everyone must have a certain characteristic that sets them apart. I was a bit displeased by how some of the characters reacted to certain situations because I couldn't imagine handling something so passively. But overall it was a solid reading experience.